New Delhi: The Asian Games gold medal after a hiatus of 16 years will have a "telling impact" on Indian hockey, feels chief coach Terry Walsh, insisting that "sustainability" would be the key to produce "continued excellence".
A spirited India outclassed arch-rivals Pakistan 4-2 in a nerve-wrecking shoot-out to regain the Asian Games men's hockey gold medal after a gap of 16 years and also sealed a direct entry into the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
And Walsh said the yellow metal in Incheon is an "indicator" of the team's progress. "The situation now is very delicately balanced. So this gold is definitely going to have a telling impact on Indian hockey. We have moved to a better place with the team than what we were a year back," the Australian told PTI in an interview.
"It was much-needed, the gold was a great tonic. It gave a good measure of our progress."
"But the real question from here on is sustainability and improvement. The need of the hour now is to make some aggressive strategy. We will have to make some changes because constant changes are a must to produce consistency and continued excellence," he said.
Walsh said a strong development programme from the grassroot level is a must if India wants to achieve consistency in their performances. "The present group of players are very good but the real issue is longevity. You need to have development programmes for sustainability and longevity. There needs to be accountability which I am sorry to say is not present now," he pin-pointed.
"We have very good talent in junior programmes and they need to be exposed. But unfortunately the level of domestic hockey is very low level and for me it is the urgent problem, which can be addressed only by putting in place a better development programme."
The gold in Incheon definitely gave the highly-paid Walsh some relief as he was under immense pressure to deliver results but the chief coach said India still has a long way to traverse to match the top three of the world. "We made good progression but you can never be happy as a coach. We are still not good enough to play top teams. The level of hockey in Asia is below what top teams like Australia, Germany and Netherlands play," he said.
"But if you ask me whether my boys can play these teams now and give them a fight I would say yes. In the beginning of the year we didn't have a chance to stand in front of these teams."
Walsh was all praise for the Sardar Singh-led side and feels the gold in Incheon made this bunch of players realise the difference between passion and emotion.
"These players never played in the final and won. This is the first time we have won a major tournament with these set of players and I guess they now understand the difference between passion and emotion," he said.
The chief coach had special praise for a few players but said overall the backline, which has been India's perennial problem, has outperformed the forwardline.
"Our defensive record is very good in this tournament and Birendra Lakra was for me the player of the tournament. Kothajit (Singh) also came of age and Rupinder improved a defender. Gurbaz (Singh) was best right back in the entire competition for me, while Sreejesh as usual was brilliant in front of the goal," Walsh said.
"But scoring should have been much better considering the fact that we have created plenty of chances."